Like any genre there can be different facets to horror. There’s horror rooted in traditional jump scares, and those that offer more psychological based forms of terror. In gaming the facets of horror have been rather one note with not many exploring the deeper realms of the genre. Though in 2007 The Darkness from 2K Games and Starbreeze Studios arrived. Based on the Top Cow comic book The Darkness wasn’t an average superhero or horror game. Instead, The Darkness provided a deeply complex narrative that bucked the traditional horror game trends.
A DIFFERENT APPROACH
Taking a realistic direction compared to the overtly stylized source material, Starbreeze created a multi-layered game. The Darkness was a first-person shooter, but it was a drama that focused on the situation of protagonist Jackie Estacado. A mob hitman, Jackie finds himself controlled by the otherworldly entity known only as the Darkness.
It’s this key pillar of the game, being consumed by the Darkness, that excelled in creating horror. Traditional elements are presented in The Darkness since the entity itself is a visually unnerving tentacle beast. There’s also the fact that audibly the Darkness sounds horrifying thanks to the tremendous acting done by Mike Patton. But the truly horrifying element about The Darkness was the emphasis on losing control.
LOSS OF CONTROL
There’s nothing more horrifying than losing control over one’s body. The Darkness tapped into the fear people have of a debilitating illness or injury falling upon them. Many people thankfully won’t ever find themselves in such a situation, but it’s this narrative direction and the humanizing of Jackie that made The Darkness so successful. Once a powerful hitman that could end the life of a person with a bullet, Jackie becomes a helpless victim under the rule of the Darkness.
This power swap within the game made Jackie’s situation that much more horrifying since it’s something any type of player could immediately relate to. What would life be if you couldn’t go on as you once did? Would life be livable having to succumb to whatever an entity wanted to do? Questions such as these fueled The Darkness as players experienced the narrative.
Starbreeze masterfully crafted the beginning of The Darkness to show Jackie in his everyday life. Segments like the scene in which Jackie, under full player control, watches TV with his girlfriend helped illustrate normalcy. All of that is then taken away from Jackie and the emotionally invested player. The only thing left to do at that point is gain consolation from the incredible powers that the Darkness offers.
Design choices such as these illustrate how one can do both horror and action without doing the obvious. Even in a realistic setting and not one of a H.R. Giger inspired space station The Darkness was more horrifying since it’s tone was unlike any other.
MOVING ON WITH THE DARKNESS
Some players may also view the Darkness metaphorically as the battle a person has with personal demons. This element built another layer of connective tissue within the narrative that helped add overall dimension. Rather than being a battle between good and evil, there was a deeper meaning to what was happening within The Darkness.
Essentially, losing one’s life is truly horrifying, as is not being able to control what they do next. The unpredictability of the Darkness as an entity was one of the most terrifying elements of the game. Going from being in control to having no power is an element some people find horrifying to consider. This element of the narrative again can be likened to not knowing what may happen next if a person has an addiction or disease.
The nuanced approach to horror made The Darkness easier for players to experience and immerse themselves in. As the narrative went on an acceptance started to begin within Jackie and the player to willingly submit to the Darkness. Another source of relation for players who have gone through trauma, this narrative device showed an arc to Jackie’s relationship with the Darkness. No matter what horror may have transpired, one merely needs to accept things and move on with their life as best they can.
More than a horror game, The Darkness was a drama that harnessed the fantastical elements to tell a personable story that players could relate to. The narrative direction benefited the game since it offered a horror that was chilling and intense compared to other titles. The balance of these elements, that of horror and drama, by Starbreeze resulted in one of the best horror games released.